More Thoughts on Yoko Ono’s Cut Pieces

December 17, 2008

I’ve been thinking about the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibit, Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution, and about the IM discussion that eloriane and I shared with you earlier. One of the pieces that stood out for us was Yoko Ono’s Cut Pieces. If you like, you can find it on youtube, but take a note of the comments – so many people really just don’t get it. We got it. And yet we were still having such a hard time articulating it. I would be interested in knowing what Ono was hoping to illustrate with that piece. The only thing I’ve read so far was that it was her “angry phase.” No doubt. What that piece exhibited makes me angry as well.

I had been talking about this video with my coworkers and one of them articulated a part of what we had been struggling with. The last man to cut at her clothing, you’ll recall, went above and beyond what anyone else had done (and with a grin) and cut away nearly all of the upper half of her clothing. My coworker had suggested that beyond wanting to participate in some kind of modern performance piece, he had wanted to subjugate her, and did, by cutting and cutting and cutting. Overall, the video was a powerful statement about female vulnerability and violence, and its partner subjugation, as well as the objectification of women. Well, really, all of that is about subjugation. It was also a comment on how far some people are willing to go when given permission. So many levels!

One of the things eloriane and I had discussed was this subtext of threat that men embody, consciously or no, willingly or no. I think a small part of it is the sexual dimorphism of humans in general; men are, most of the time, larger than most women. In the post-revolution society this might be irrelevant. However, currently coupling with this (made possible because of this?) is the power differential between men and women in society. Men dominate every social, legal, political, religious and artistic institution. But it is also how much violent crime is gendered. Statistically, men account for 97% of all sexual assault perpetrators (FBI) and 89% of all murderers (Bureau of Justice). Now, I don’t believe for one second that this is biologically based. In fact, I get really annoyed at these biological/evolutionary excuses that people come with to explain these facts. I mean really, if males are just that biologically more prone to rape and other forms of violence then we really should be giving them mellowing drugs or hindering their movement in some form. But no one would agree with that. And if you point out how men, if they are intrinsically more dangerous then they should be more controlled, then the excuses about men-as-a-class’s violent behaviour becomes about individuals rather than men as a group.

To recap: men are mostly larger than women. Men are responsible for 89 and 97% of all murders and sexual crimes. Here’s another statistic: 73% of women who are raped are attacked by men they know (Dept of Justice). In Canada, in the 80’s, approximately 80% of women who were murdered were killed by their former or current male sexual partner. Intimate partner violence in Thailand is the leading cause of death for females between the ages of 15 and 24 ( Murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women in America ( Worldwide, violence is a major cause of death and disability in European women between the ages of 15 and 44, occurring more frequently than that caused by war, malaria or car accidents(UN Development Fund for Women). More than 80% of the 3/4 of a million people enslaved in the sex trafficking trade are women and men are overwhelmingly the “consumers” ( Again, I do not believe that the reasons for this are biological in nature. I suspect a host of complicated and interweaving reasons, but the primary ones being masculinity as perceived in society being about being domineering and pimp-like towards women, and male supremacy in general.

There’s also this feeling that men can do to women what they want and women really have no means of stopping it, either individually when it’s happening, or culturally as a whole. Looking at the above statistics this isn’t just a feeling. We are constantly told, not always in so many words, that we need a man to protect us from other men. But who is going to protect us from the man we’re with? A number of years ago there was a mass outbreak of sexual assault and harassment in New York one summer day. Women went up to the police to ask for help and they did nothing. Gangs of men were hanging out in the park and sexually assaulting women as they walked by. Who stopped them? The men the women were with? Were they afraid also? The police didn’t stop them. Men took pictures of the events. For the police? Or to watch later?

We know as women – we know how little we are protected. How little we are believed. We know who has the power in society. And so do men, consciously or no (the unconscious awareness would be your male privilege). Many men might be appalled by the behaviour of all these other men in New York that day. Many men are pro-feminist, or at least try to be. I know many of those men. Many men will protest that they don’t hate women and don’t think of women as inferior. But did they laugh when that character in XXX called to the women saying “bitches, come!”? Do they laugh when sexist jokes are made about Sarah Palin? Do they watch porn? Do they tell you you’re being oversensitive when you try to talk to them about sexism? You might argue that there is a world of difference between laughing at a sexist joke and committing mass sexual assault in Central Park, and while this is obviously true it’s also all of a piece. They are on the same continuum of subjugation of women.

Feminists are often accused of hating men, and some might accuse me of being mysandrist in what I’m saying. But calling a group of people to account for their actions is not exhibiting hatred of them. Describing what so many members of a class of people do to another class of people is not “reverse sexism.” Telling the truth about what life is like for women is not hating on men. I’ve had people say to me, after I’ve talked about what men as a class do, how society is structured, that I “must really hate men.” It’s always confused me. It seems like such a non sequitur. “buuh. What?” I sputter back. I’ve just described what’s going on and I haven’t said anything about how I feel about it. It’s as if they think I’m making it up because I hate men, the way bigots will make shit up about people of colour, or immigrants.

But I’m not making this up. These are verifiable, well researched statistics. The statistics of the gender make-up of sexual abusers comes from the FBI. Hardly a bastion of radical feminism. So much sociological research has gone on in the last 30 years from all sorts of people that it’s a given, now, that we live in a male supremist society. Even my Sociology 101 textbook recognized the ground-breaking work done by feminists and feminism. In fact, it broke sociology down into two basic types: functionalism and critical perspectives. Their examples of critical perspectives were feminism and marxism. Ha! We’re mainstream, yo. And yet so often, that fact is ignored.


Yes! Yes! YES!

December 8, 2008

The title is so exuberant because when Crowfoot and I finally started trying to talk about the feminist art exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery (also known as the VAG 😉 ) we just kept saying to each other, “Yes! Yes!”

It’s an excellent exhibit, and if you live anywhere near it you should go. It’s also so thought-provoking that we knew it would be a million years before we could write some proper posts about it. To at least get started, we decided to IM each other and record the conversation. And so, I present to you: the highlights!

Well, sort of. It’s a bit long, but I figure you guys don’t mind that.

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